More of Canada's 5 million seniors are staying together as couples in retirement, newly released census data shows.
Among those aged 65 and older, 56.4 per cent of Canadians were living as part of a couple in 2011, up from 54.1 per cent in 2001, Statistics Canada reported — likely a function of healthier, more active baby boomers now reaching the age of retirement.
But the ravages of time eventually leave one partner — usually the woman, given their longer life expectancy and tendency to wed men who are older than they are — facing difficult choices about whether to live alone, move in with family members or join a retirement community.
More than half of Canadian seniors in their 90s were living in private households, including 28.7 per cent who lived alone, 12.2 per cent who were in couples and 15.7 per cent who lived with others, including adult children, Statistics Canada said.
Even modern-day centenarians are clinging to an independent lifestyle: one-third of them lived in private households, and 11.5 per cent of men aged 100 and older were still living as part of a couple.
Toronto resident Arden King, 77, found herself at a crossroads two years after her husband died. She knew it was time to accept that the tall old Victorian house with lots of stairs she had lived in for 40 years was no longer the right home for her.
"My joints kept getting replaced so I thought, I gotta get out of here," Ms. King laughed. One option she quickly crossed off her list was the idea of moving back in with any of her three adult children.
"Never. Ever. For their sake and for mine," said Ms. King, who used to work in publishing. "I can spend a weekend with them and have a lovely time, but not live with them."
In the end, she decided on The Dunfield, an assisted-living centre in mid-Toronto.
"I found it very lonely in the house," said Ms. King, who lives in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom corner apartment. "Here, you're never lonely. You can be alone, but you never have to be lonely."
The building provides seniors with spa facilities, meals, activities and classes, field trips, swimming pool and 24-hour on-call medical assistance.
Keval Khanna, the centre's general manager, said the housing industry is adapting to meet the needs of a new kind of senior resident. The idea of a stuffy, sterile nursing home as an only option to live out your golden years is a thing of the past, he said.
"As people are living longer and healthier and thinking younger, we expect the industry will evolve for better."
Seniors like to hold onto their independence for as long as they can, and moving in with their children can feel like they're being robbed of that freedom, said Verena Menec, director of the centre of aging at the University of Manitoba.
"It's not so much the young generation doesn't want them," said Ms. Menec, a professor at the medical faculty. "It's also from seniors wanting to be independent on their own and not be a burden on their kids."
Ms. Menec said it is still common for seniors who are new immigrants, particularly from east and south Asian countries, to live with their adult children.
But as baby boomers — who began reaching the age of 65 last year — consider their retirement plans, they are sure to seek out more creative and unconventional living arrangements.
"I would predict now we're going to see different patterns," said Ms. Menec. "Friends will get together a buy a house together, get together and support each other into old age. I think it's going to be less based on family and more based on friendship."
Indeed, the 2011 census data showed a sharp drop in the percentage of Canadian women aged 80 to 84 who were opting to live alone — 40.2 per cent last year, compared with 46.1 per cent in 2001. Men were significantly less likely to live alone: 18.6 per cent in 2011 compared with 20.1 per cent a decade earlier.
Gloria Gutman, who founded the Gerontology Research Centre at Simon Fraser University, said there are many factors at play when seniors decide where to live next.
"One issue is being an burden and the other is having freedom," said Ms. Gutman, who has written 20 books on gerontology issues including housing.
"If they spent their lives looking after other people, one of the things they expressed is that 'It's our time now. Now finally, I can do what I want to do when I want to do it."'
Their options, however, are heavily dependent on their mobility.
"Virtually everything is dependent on health," said Ms. Gutman.
"If you're healthy enough that you can live on your own, then you will choose to live on your own. If your health deteriorates, then a minority will move in with their children."